Good Medicine Everyday: Connection + Community by emily penn

Feeling supported is a huge part of connection! My brother and I picking apples, 2011.

Feeling supported is a huge part of connection! My brother and I picking apples, 2011.

In honor of this week’s controversial holiday, I want to highlight one of the things that Valentine’s Day gets right - celebrating the love and connection in our life.

One of the most overlooked aspects of health is the concept of community. Dan Buettner is the man who studied and identified the Blue Zones - five areas of the world where people live the longest and the healthiest lives: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. These areas all share some common themes that are purported to support their longevity. One of the main tenets is this idea of connection + community - they frequently share meals with friends, are part of groups (usually faith-based), and they put family first, keeping aging parents close, committing to a life partner and investing their time and love into their kids.

Having a strong social and support network has been shown to help with everything from lowering rates of depression, reducing stress, improving immunity, and supporting longevity. Having family and friends that you can count on and spend time with is huge. If you don’t have a lot of family or friends then volunteering or belonging to a community group or club can provide the same benefits.

As an introvert and someone who not only needs, but strongly prefers time alone, prioritizing the time to spend with people I love can seem like a big effort. I’ve also never been one to have a huge group of friends - I have several close friends from various stages of my life (middle school/high school, college and early twenties). I’m close to my family, talking to my mom and brother on the phone at least once a week, with lots of texting in-between.

Best friends since we were 12.

Best friends since we were 12.

Sometimes meeting up with a friend can feel like a thing I’m forcing myself to do, but I’ve learned at this point that I always feel better afterwards. Connecting and bonding with a friend makes me feel less alone, more understood and improves my mood. It’s also really satisfying to nurture friendships and watch them grow as each person goes through different stages of life. Focusing on this end result gets me out of the house every time.

I do better in small groups and especially prefer one-on-one hangouts with my friends, so I try to do that as much as I possibly can. Large groups stress me out and I often end up feeling disconnected from those around me, not to mention energetically drained. I’ll be there for the big things (birthday parties, bachelorette parties, weddings, etc.) but if it’s just a night out with a bunch of people, I’ll probably pass and chose to spend quality time with you on another day.

This week I encourage you to put a little extra effort into your relationships - whether that’s with a romantic partner, friends, family or even co-workers. Let the people in your life know that you appreciate them. Spend time with them if you can. You’ll feel better immediately and the long-term payoff is undeniable.

Good Medicine Everyday: Cranberries by emily penn

When you think of cranberries you probably think of two things - Thanksgiving and Urinary Tract Infections. But cranberries deserve so much MORE credit than that!

Cranberries contain one of the HIGHEST levels of antioxidants of any fruit! This means they’re stellar at fighting inflammation and boosting immunity. Here’s a few other things cranberries are awesome at (1):

  • Preventing and treating UTIs. It’s true - cranberries have earned their reputation for a reason. They contain a specific compound that prevents bacteria from attaching to the inner surface of the urinary tract and bladder.

  • They fight cancer. Human and animal studies show that cranberries may help slow tumor progression and block the growth of cancer cells.

  • Cranberries contain high levels of polyphenols, vitamin C and combined with their ability to fight bacteria, they make a great ally during cold and flu season.

  • They support your GI tract. Cranberries help optimize the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract while also having anti-diarrhea, anti-septic, and diuretic properties.

My favorite way to incorporate cranberries into my life is with unsweetened cranberry juice (Trader Joe’s makes a great, inexpensive one). I add 1-2 oz of cranberry juice to a regular glass of water or to plain kombucha. Avoid those cranberry juices that are heavily sweetened. Sometimes I’ll buy frozen cranberries to throw into smoothies - only a small handful is necessary.

Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake (Gluten Free + Paleo) by emily penn

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Coffee cake was one of my absolute favorite things when I was a kid. I didn’t eat it all the time, it was more of a special occasion thing - like holidays or brunch events. But man, when I did have it, I would eat A LOT of it. Because it’s soooo good. It’s hard to stop!

Needless to say, I haven’t been hitting the Entenmann’s in quite some time. But I recently came across a recipe for a gluten-free coffee cake that looked promising. It was and I was thrilled! I made some modifications and tweaks and this Bluberry Almond Coffee Cake was born.

It’s nice and moist (sorry, but it’s an accurate descriptor!) on the inside, with a crumb topping and melted coconut butter drizzled on top instead of super sugary glaze. It’s paleo, gluten-free, and low in sugar! And it totally hits the spot.

An egg really helps lift the almond flour, but you could use a flax egg or vegan egg substitute to make this vegan. This may increase the cooking time.

And now, without further delay - the recipe. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake
(Gluten Free + Paleo)

makes 1 loaf
prep time 10 minutes / cook time 1 hour

½ cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract (optional)

1 ½ cups almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 cup of blueberries

crumb topping
½ cup of almond flour
1.5 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp cinnamon

for serving
drizzle with melted coconut butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a regular loaf pan (either grease it or line with parchment paper).

  2. Mix all wet ingredients together. In a separate bowl mix all dry ingredients except blueberries. Slowly add the dry to the wet ingredients, stirring to make sure it’s well-combined. Then stir in blueberries, reserving a small handful for the top of the loaf.

  3. Mix up your crumb topping and distribute evenly on top, then sprinkle with reserved blueberries.

  4. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until edges are turning golden and loaf is firm when you press in the center.

  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Then carefully transfer to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool for at least another 20 minutes.

  6. When ready to serve drizzle with melted coconut butter. Enjoy! Best enjoyed in three days, after that refrigerate or freeze the leftovers.

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